By DAVID GREEN
Keep the existing medical services and senior citizen center. Throw away any hopes for a seniors living facility. Tear down the old hospital.
Those are the likely options that representatives from ProMedica presented Monday to the Morenci city council. An audience of nearly 30 residents attended the meeting to learn about ProMedica’s plans for their property in Morenci.
John Horns, president of ProMedica’s North and West regions, told council that his organization would like to move the senior citizen center, Dr. William Gray, and the lab and the physical therapy services from the old hospital building into the Charles Fay Village building.
At that time, about six acres of property including the hospital would be donated to the city. If the city requested, the hospital would be first demolished, with ProMedica covering the approximately $200,000 cost.
The ambulance garage and training facility would also be given to the city. Operation of that building is currently paid by the Morenci Area EMS.
Horns said he would like to have renovation underway within 60 days and the change in location completed in the fall.
“The old building is in bad decay and it’s going to get worse,” Horns said about the hospital that was constructed in 1961. “We won’t keep putting money into that old facility. It will be far less costly to operate the newer facility.”
Horns pointed out that the hospital building is not up to code and would require extensive renovations. Dr. Gray’s office manager said there isn’t even a handicap accessible bathroom for patients in wheelchairs.
With the Fay Village layout, two separate entrances could be made for seniors and medial services. Additional parking space would be needed.
The cost to the city in acquiring the new property—without the hospital building—would be limited to lawn care, said city supervisor Barney Vanderpool.
Horns, who was joined by ProMedica’s community outreach board president Claude Rowley of Hudson and senior vice president of continuing care services Lori Johnston, was questioned about how much effort went into the operation of the Charles Fay Village senior citizen residence. The Charles Fay Trust contributed $1.2 million of the $3 million cost. Fay wanted his estate to build a home for area seniors to avoid going to the “poor house.”
By the time the funds were used in the late 1990s, the poor house no longer existed.
Johnston said the facility was never close to being filled to capacity and somewhere between 15 and 20 residents would be needed to make the operation cost effective.
After a group of residents began discussing the closure of the facility in January, an informal survey was made and signatures were collected of people interested in living in the facility.
“We contacted a representative to tell how many people were interested,” said audience member Sybil Diccion. “We were just waiting,” she said, and now she’s learning the structure will never be used for a residence.
“No one was interested in moving in today,” Johnston said about the list. “Signatures indicated they would like to move in, but no one immediately. We couldn’t operate it like that. We had zero calls on it.”
It became apparent, she said, that interest was focussed on the health care services and the senior center.
Colleen Leddy said she was surprised the building is affordable to operate as a senior center and not as a residence.
“It’s not,” Horns said, but he spoke of ProMedica’s commitment to area senior citizens.
Johnston said it’s very unlikely that another company would buy the facility to operate as a residence. It’s difficult to compete with other nearby facilities that receive government subsidies.
An audience member said the rent was said to be too high at Fay Village and that contributed to problems, but Johnston stated that it was in line with other non-subsidized facilities.
Doyle Collar from the Charles Fay Foundation board was asked his opinion about the proposals.
“I hate to tell you, but I believe what they’re doing is the best thing,” he said. “It’s like the old auditorium. It was beautiful, but you can’t maintain it.”
Audience member Larry Weeks asked about ProMedica’s commitment to future support.
“We’ve continually seen services decline,” he said. “What’s the commitment to the senior center if the other services decline?”
“I don’t think we can promise anything,” Johnston said.
“Usage is the key issue,” Rowley added. “We don’t know what will come down the pike. We give you our honest opinion of what we’re going to do, but we don’t know what’s coming five years from now.”
If attendance at the senior center fell drastically in the future, ProMedica would have to continue to change and adapt. The medical field is rapidly changing, he said.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in our careers,” Horns said. “We’re chartering new ground.”
Uncompensated care provided by ProMedica North increased from $1.2 million two years ago to an expected $11 million this year.
The ProMedica officials will consider any proposals that residents might have for the Morenci property before city council makes its decision on whether to accept the property.
Joe Farquhar asked about the possibility of space for Morenci’s Head Start center. The center will not be at the elementary school next year because the school’s music program will move from a portable classroom back to the school where the Head Start class is located.
Horns said he would have to discuss the issue with Dr. Gray. David Bull of the Lenawee Head Start told Horns that a class is in operation at the Lenawee Medical Care Facility and provides good interaction between the preschoolers and the senior citizens.
Council member Keith Pennington, who moderated the meeting in the absence of mayor Doug Erskin, thanked the ProMedica representatives for attending and made it clear to the audience that the proposals are not a city project. The city gave up its interest in the hospital building back in the 1990s.
“If there are those in the community with ideas about how the properties can be used, they should let us know,” Pennington said. “It’s not our decision, but we can offer alternatives.”